Sheppard arrives at the oval before sundown with a bag on his shoulder and his dog Rondo. Sheppard’s late, even when you give him a sure-fire tip where to find a baby crocodile. ‘You point. I’ll steal,’ Sheppard said, after Saltie decided he needed a new torture tool and generously gave us one day to find it.

In Footscray, you can’t fart without Saltie knowing, let alone run a dog napping operation. Even a two-man outfit needed Saltie’s approval. But baby crocs aren’t pets. Once, we stole a grinning capuchin monkey. Just like Rondo who always carries a grin. I don’t know if he likes me or wants to bite me.

Apparently Saltie wrestled a saltwater crocodile somewhere in Cape York. There’s a croc tattoo on his chest. The spiky tail loops around one nipple, open jaws enclose the other. He carries a pair of crocodile clips and some wires; he connects them to power points and to humans.

Once, Saltie tied his crocodile clips to a short rope and clipped them onto the testicles of some bastard. To the other end he tied a barbell and shoved it into this fellow’s mouth. He made him stand until gravity did its job.

Sheppard and Rondo trudge across the burnt grass raising puffs of dust. The sun is behind them and they look like sharp shadows that escaped a nightmare. Rondo’s studded collar reflects the last traces of sun and it’s like fairies are dancing around his grinning head. He’s a pitbull cross. Sheppard kept him after he stopped with dog fighting.

‘No more of this crocodile hunter bullshit.’ Sheppard chucks the bag in front of my feet. Sheppard nicked the croc from a mobile reptile farm visiting my cousin’s school.

There’s movement inside.

Rondo barks, jumps on the bag and tries to bite it. Sheppard sticks his foot into his ribs and the mongrel quietens.

‘Jaws taped?’

Sheppard nods. I unzip the bag and peer inside.

‘Careful, he’s springy.’

I let the baby crocodile out. Immediately, he assumes a fighting stance. Rondo stops grinning. Sheppard prods the croc with his foot. A throated hiss comes out of him. I grab the croc and look into his eyes. He’s got two pairs of eyelids but he doesn’t blink. The croc’s a statue.

Then, I see the masking tape.

‘You put the wrong fucking tape on his jaws.’ I lift my hand to smack Sheppard but he ducks. The croc slips through my hand and falls on the ground. The tape comes off, the jaws snap free.

‘Couldn’t find gaffer tape. Not picking him up again,’ Sheppard says.

‘Yes you fucking are or it’s clips on our balls.’

The croc takes off across the paddock. Double-quick Rondo catches up and locks his jaws on its neck. He shakes the body wildly until it goes limp. He drops it in front of us and grins.

The croc raises a cloud of dust that travels upward, reaching my balls, and they shrink like someone stuck them on ice.